The games of 2018. (Gaming)

by cheapLEY @, Tuesday, December 25, 2018, 20:18 (762 days ago)

Another year has passed, and it's been a good one. Lots of great games hit this year! In no particular order, here are some I played, and a few I missed and look forward to spending more time with.

To start, I'll mention Hollow Knight, only because that's what I've been playing tonight. The lazy comparison is that it's 2D Dark Souls, but that misses a lot of what makes this game great. It definitely has that Dark Souls structure, with reclaiming your currency and XP from your dead body, the difficult combat and boss fights, bonfires (represented here with park benches). It has a slightly more straightforward presentation than Dark Souls (which uses item descriptions to tell its story), which I like quite a bit. I played about three hours of it when it came out on Switch earlier this year, but I dropped it in favor of something else. I just picked it back up tonight, and I'm looking forward to playing some more.

Now let's go all the way back to the beginning of the year, and talk about Monster Hunter World. The first time in a long time that Monster Hunter has been on real consoles, and it's been highly streamlined from past iterations. It's still deep and complex and often inscrutable, but it does a fairly good job of explaining it's systems--at least a good enough job to let me get interested in the game and find the fun. Hunting monsters for parts to craft gear is a really compelling loop, but the actual combat variety of this game is where it really shines. There are a bunch of different weapons, each with its own distinct moveset and upgrade path. No weapon is like another, and most of them have a deep learning curve that really allows player skill and knowledge to dictate how fights go. Combine that with lots of monster, each of which is also vastly different from the others, with their own moves, behaviors, resistances, and weaknesses, and you have a really deep game that rewards experimentation and learning patterns (from monster attacks to which routes they might take to their lairs). This is "grind" taken to another level. I'll admit to not "finishing" the game (as much as it can even be finished), because after you reach a certain rank, the game basically starts over in High Rank, which lets you keep all your gear, but adds new, higher power sets to craft (and throws in some new monsters along the way). I put 50 hours into the game, and loved every one of them, but basically playing the game over again wasn't appealing enough at the time, but I'll admit typing this paragraph has me considering going back to it for a bit.

Also early in the year, I picked up Subnautica on Xbox. At the end of the day, it's just a really compelling survival game. It's immediately novel, in that you're underwater, which is a good twist on the typical survival stuff. But what really makes this game stand out is that it's all hand-crafted (no procedural generation here), and it actually has an interesting story thread to follow (while still allowing you to just explore and build a cool base). Some neat twists and surprises await in the deeps.
I had a lot of fun playing Forza Horizon 4. This is the closest thing we have to a modern Burnout (I guess if you ignore Burnout Paradise Remastered, which hit this year), in that it's just a great driving game that doesn't take itself seriously and focuses on fun and silliness in a way that most driving games don't anymore. The world is your playground, and it's a good one.

Pokemon Let's Go, Pikachu! came out not long ago. It's essentially a remake of the first generation of Pokemon games. It's still a simplistic "baby's first RPG" style of game, but collection all 150 Pokemon still provides a compelling (if sort of brainless) experience. The game makes some notable changes, beyond the obvious graphical enhancements. Capturing wild Pokemon no longer means battling them to make them weak--the game adopts Pokemon Go's capture system, which is just throwing berries to calm them, and throwing Pokeballs at them in simple timing game. It sounds dull, but it works really well. Fighting wild Pokemon was always the most annoying part of those games. The new capture mechanics make that a non-issue (especially now that wild pokemon actually appear in the overworld, and you can avoid them if you want). This game won't change anyone's mind if you don't like the series, but it's a great nostalgia trip for fans, and it's a great game to play on the Switch while watching TV.

I picked up a PSVR this year. I had a lot of fun in Skyrim VR (that world is ugly as shit up close, but VR adds a whole new amazing feeling to being in that world). Dirt Rally in VR is really something special. It's already the the best feeling racing game in the last five years, and being in VR only makes it better (although, be warned, this one made me feel ill the first few runs until I acclimated). Moss is a neat VR puzzle game, where you control a mouse with a sword. Simplistic combat and neat puzzles, but the art style is gorgeous, and the sense of scale is really something to see. Astrobot Rescue Mission is probably the best real game in VR. It's basically Super Mario 64 in VR, and it really works. The premise of the game is that you control an Astrobot through various levels, and your goal is to find all his friends hidden throughout. The platforming is great thanks to the terrific character control, so the game just feels good on a fundamental level. The real magic is the way VR is utilized. Lots of Astrobots are just out in the open at the end of good platforming sections, but many of them are cleverly hidden along the way, and they really require you to use VR movement to peak around corners and behind things to find them all.

Tetris Effect is a strong contender for my overall game of the year. It seems silly--it's just Tetris, after all. The thing that really makes this game great is it's presentation. An outstanding art style is only surpassed by the best audio design in a puzzle game possibly ever. The soundtrack is brilliant on its own, but every move you make, every rotation, every drop, every line clear has a sound associated with it that changes to match the theme of whatever level you're currently playing, and it is really, really satisfying. As I said in the GRIS thread, music is really important to me, and this is an odd combination of Tetris and music maker. I loved every minute of this game. It has a mode called Journey Mode. It's a 27-levle marathon. You move to the next level once you have passed a certain number of lines cleared (the default is 36, I think). When you move from one level to the next, your previous board carries over, so it's a seamless experience. The key to Journey mode is the different themes for each level. They're all compelling, with both cool backgrounds and great music. While the difficulty does ramp up as you move on, it's not just a simple escalation. The speed will often change multiple times through each level, but it moves up and down, creates periods of high tension as the speed is really high, and then the music slows and the speed of the game slows with it and the tension releases. I can get through Journey mode in a little under and hour, and I play through it about once a week now--it's just an amazing experience that has me grinning the entire time because it's just so damn cool. For that extra kick, pop on the PSVR headset. The board just floats in front of you, but the backgrounds completely surround you, and pull you completely into the game--I've lost hours at a time zoning out in VR in this game, when I can only really do about about and hour in any other VR game. I cannot recommend this game highly enough. I don't even have a strong affinity for Tetris, but it really speaks to me in a way nothing else really matched this year. If you even remotely like Tetris, play this game. If you don't feel strongly about Tetris, at least look at some videos, and consider playing this game. It's incredible.

Red Dead Redemption 2. This game is odd. Like . . . really odd. It's a niche, cult classic disguised as a AAA hit. It's huge and beautiful. It has a great story (and I mean really great), with great characters. Arthur Morgan is a great protagonist, and Sadie Adler might be my favorite character in gaming in the past few years. But the game play is slow. Really slow. This game will force you to take your sweet time, and if you fight it on that, it will be a source of endless frustration. I haven't actually finished this game, even after 60 or 70 hours, but that's not a knock on the game. That's due only because I can't stop playing Destiny. I'll get back to it someday.

God of War is my overall game of the year, I think. This game has it all, and is as close to a perfect video game as I have ever played. It's gorgeous. The story is compelling. The combat is the best I've ever experienced. It's deep and satisfying. Like Horizon: Zero Dawn last year, this game set out to make a AAA open world game with all the extraneous bullshit stripped out of it, and it succeeds in a huge way. The only activity I can think of in the entire game that feels disappointingly tacked on is the hidden Ravens, and even those are sort of compelling in their own way. This game is a masterpiece, and I mean than genuinely. It has the best moment of the year: part of the way through the game, after using the new axe for hours and hours and hours, Kratos goes home and picks up his old Blades of Chaos. It's a dramatic moment, filled with tension, and even not having played the previous God of War games, that moment was near pitch perfect, and the way it changes that game and adds variety and strategy to the rest of the game is just incredible and so well done. I have my issues with the story, but it was compelling all the way through, and the issues are relatively minor. If you have a PS4, play this game.

I won't mention Forsaken. We have had (and continue to have) that particular discussion. I'll just say that I like it! It's good. Destiny is the best it's ever been right now.

Beyond games, some other cool stuff happened this year, too!

I attended my first bungie.org LAN, and I can't wait for the next one. I truly thank those of you that were there--it was the best weekend I had this year. Meeting some of the folks from here was an amazing experience, and an important one. I feel like I know many of you pretty well through our time playing Destiny, and through our posts here on the forum, but meeting in person provides a new perspective and does a lot to provide context and tone to posts here in a way that I didn't expect. Let's do it again soon!

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